By Revi Sterling
While America doesn't celebrate International Women's Day like we do Mother's Day, or even Women's History Month, one scan through Facebook reveals that the rest of the world does. Policemen giving female drivers flowers and men's chorale groups singing to women just passing by give us encouragement that women are recognized (and recognizable) on this day.
However, it is not a holiday for all women. Those who have their periods in many parts of the world on this day are completely ostracized from their families and homes, for the simple biological truth that they are women. There are women who are earning less than men in every country in the world today. There are women who are being abused and beaten and who cannot seek help because they are prisoners in their families and relationships. There are unmarried women across three states in India who are banned from using their cell phones and thus cannot call or take a call on this holiday. They cannot to celebrate other women, find out about women's rights, or even discover that their periods do not have to be a reason to sleep outside or not attend school.
Inequality pervades any place where there is a fear of women becoming equal to men.
Why do people fear empowering women so much? It's a matter of power of others - something many don't want to give up. A cell phone, for example, represents a form of freedom and empowerment that simply cannot be tolerated by many men around the world; this is not limited to developing countries.
Recently, a female taxi driver told me that her husband hates it when she uses the computer and finally sold it to keep her from accessing information online. She is in the midst of trying to take online courses to finish her degree and this act threatens him, she said, as he's worried she might leave him for someone more educated.
What can we do?
We need to demonstrate digital outcomes that are valued as much by men as women. In the Women and the Web Alliance, we allow up to 30% men to join each cohort, keeping with the spirit of the Kenyan Constitution. These men often attend with their wives and become great champions of the training to other men. This is a win for both sides! Men who participate realize that empowering women with ICT is a way to potentially add income, development opportunities and status to a family, rather than rob the head of the household of power.
We need to engage men, and whole communities, in women's empowerment strategies and not just recognize women's contributions one day a year. This calls for a seismic cultural shift worldwide. If we are going to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5.b (use ICT to empower women) we need to understand the power relations and cultural constraints that are systemically used to keep women under-empowered.
It's a daunting challenge, but one we should be up for if we want ICT4D to be used for its purpose: equitable and sustainable development.
Interested in learning more about our work on the gender divide? Start your exploration here!
By Revi Sterling